HOUSTON — Drew Lock walked over to his locker Friday and gladly answered the question. Somewhere between his touchdown passes and nods to his family in the stands last week, there was a frenetic celebration. As Lock jumped around the field, he attempted to pull his necklace over his shoulder pads.
"The chain broke," Lock said. "I had a cross on it."
Lock brings swag, edge, talent and on Sunday, he looked like the man who could answer the prayers of Broncos fans desperate for a leader since Peyton Manning retired. Buoyed by arguably the best first half by a rookie in franchise history, Lock riddled the Texans in the convincing 38-24 victory.
"He's a (bleeping) rock star," Broncos All-Pro linebacker Von Miller said. "You gotta censor that, right? He's on his way. I love that guy. He's going to be incredible."
Consider it air freshener in a pungent season. In the final month, Lock has restored hope, allowed slivers of light to shine through. The Broncos, dare I say it, expressed joy on the football field. It began and ended with Lock. All he did was throw for 235 yards in the first half and three touchdowns. He celebrated big plays by pretending to shoot lasers from his wristband.
Buzz Lightyear to Star Command.
Come in, Star Command?
The response from the mothership came quickly as Lock – who finished 22-for-27, and became the first NFL rookie in the Super Bowl era to pass for 300 yards and three touchdowns in his first career road start – joined John Elway and Craig Penrose as the franchise's only rookies to win their first two starts.
"I'd like to think my confidence is contagious. But I don't want it to come across as arrogance," said Lock, who returns to his hometown of Kansas City next week to face the team he grew up rooting for as a kid. "I want it to come off as fire, that I am having fun playing the game we have all dreamed about as little kids. We are here, let's have some fun."
The first drive played out like Andy Warhol quip. The Broncos continued basking in their 15 minutes of fame during their first 15 plays. Lock caffeinated the offense with his initial pass. Cornerback Jonathan Joseph redlined toward tight end Noah Fant and left redfaced. The mistimed interception attempt cleared Fant to leave a vapor trail down the sideline for a 48-yard gain. Lock was just getting warmed up. He finished the drive -- which was nearly spoiled when Garett Bolles' block in the back negated Phillip Lindsay's touchdown -- by zipping a 14-yard scoring pass to Fant. Broncos fans could get comfortable with that combination and Lock's arm strength. He was off-balance, backpedaling and firing strikes, showing why he was a coveted prospect.
"Uh-oh. Broncos Country, I think we know what's about to happen," safety Will Parks said. "All he got to do is stick to what he do -- and that's launching that ball. You all know."
The Broncos have been here before, holding an early lead. They decided to build on it Sunday by doing something unusual. The Broncos entered the game ranked dead last in takeaway points with 20. In the first quarter, they pressured Deshaun Watson consistently -- Jeremiah Attaochu posted two sacks playing opposite of Von Miller. On a short pass to Keke Coutee, linebacker Alexander Johnson caused a fumble. Attaochu, who has impressed Fangio with his improvement over the last month, scooped it up and wisely tossed it to safety Kareem Jackson. In his return to Houston, Jackson high-stepped 70 yards for a touchdown.
"It was real special. Especially when we got the guys kind of rallying behind me like that. But for me I wanted to treat it as another game on the schedule," Jackson said. "Obviously, I knew I was coming in here early in the year. It's just all about me being a piece of the puzzle.
The Broncos befuddled Watson, using outside linebackers as defensive ends in coverage. And Jackson almost decleated Deandre Hopkins to snuff out a drive, sending a message that Denver wasn't backing down.
"Jackson laid the wood on that didn't he?" said Broncos legendary safety Steve Atwater, who forged his career on big hits. Several players mentioned afterward that they wanted to win for Jackson, who was not offered a contract last spring after spending nine years with the Texans.
"He was really focused. I mean how do you get rid of a guy like that?" said running back Phillip Lindsay, who rushed for 51 yards on 16 carries and caught two passes. "He is the NFL. The fact that you get rid of him -- I am happy we have him after what he did to me last year (with a huge hit). Hopkins got to feel a little bit of that today."
Holding a 14-0 cushion, just as they did last week, the Broncos refused to tuck their head into a shell. With Lock, why would you? He put on a show with short darts, fastballs off his back foot and dimes over the middle. When Lock connected on an 8-yard score to Jeff Heuerman, the Broncos opened up a 21-0 lead in the second quarter with eye-opening stats. Lock connected on nine of his first 11 passes to eight different receivers, carving up the Texans, who surprisingly played mainly man coverage rather than try to trick Lock with zone looks.
As halves go, Lock had a good month by Broncos' standards in recent seasons. The team's seventh starter since Manning, Lock completed 16 of 19 attempts for 235 yards and three scores as Denver held a 31-3 halftime advantage. Lock’s 157.8 quarterback rating in first half is the highest by a Bronco since Elway' performance (158.3) against Dallas on Sept. 13, 1998.
"(Offensive coordinator Rich) Scangarello called an awesome game. We had it dialed in all week," said Lock, who put the football through his legs and signaled first down after converting a third down, harkening to his days in AAU hoops when he learned to talk trash. "He put me in a bunch of good positions to make plays. Once I saw the first install, I thought this was a good plan. I thought we'll be able to score a lot of points and throw the ball around."
It marked the 13th time in franchise history the Broncos had scored this many points in the first half. They have won all those games. At one point, Texans radio announcer Andre Ware, the former Heisman Trophy winner, blurted, “I don’t like the body language of Drew Lock right now. It’s exuding way too much confidence.” He obviously hasn't watched the Broncos since Super Bowl 50. This team needs confidence like a wandering man in the desert needs water.
The Broncos scored on their first five possessions, a jarring juxtaposition to the five three-and-outs to finish the Buffalo game. Lock reached 306 yards passing early in the third quarter, the most by a Denver quarterback this season.
The Texans, after their worst half in years, showed a pulse in the third. Watson connected with Deandre Hopkins on a 43-yard touchdown pass after a communication breakdown in zone coverage. Watson followed with a 6-yard scramble for a score as he jumped into the air, sending his knee into Parks' head as he tumbled into the end zone. It shaved the deficit to 38-17 with 13:34 remaining.
Denver has lost games under similar circumstances, most notably the collapse in Minnesota. However, when Jackson picked off Watson with seven minutes left, there was no buckle on Sunday.
"We didn't play well. They got up on us and made it hard to come back," Watson said. "We just didn't execute. And they did."
Jackson delivered turnovers and big hits. But this game will be remembered for Lock. The Broncos' Buzzkill offense is now led by Buzz Lightyear. Or Buzz Lockyear. No one is asking the rookie to lead the Broncos to infinity and beyond. But two victories are a nice start on the path to redemption.
"He was OK," joked coach Vic Fangio. "He played obviously very well. He made a great jump from week one to week two. I thought he threw the ball much, much better than he did last week. I don't think he missed many throws today. To do that in his first road start against a team that's going to be in the playoffs makes it even better."
Von Miller came out of the tunnel almost three hours before the game with noticeable energy. His left knee felt better, allowing him to start. Miller played a large chunk of snaps, applying decent pressure on multiple occasions. Miller spent part of his pregame meditating to get his mind right for his return.
"It felt good to be out there," Miller said. "I wanted to do it for my teammates."
Jackson's touchdown was Denver's first by the defense since Chris Harris Jr.'s 53-yard pick six last October against Arizona. ... Attaochu posted his third multi-sack game, but first with the Broncos. ... Noah Fant left with a foot injury in the fourth quarter, but returned for the final series. ... Ja'Wuan James started at right tackle for the first time since the Colts game, and played the first half.